I wake up early, at around 7AM. The freezing cold temperature, a product of the desert environment. I put on my sweatshirt and jeans and walk out of my room with an unusual zeal for the morning time. Not so sure what I’m even zealous about. I walk to the dining hall in chappals (Hindi word for sandals) jumping over highways of ants along their morning commute. I drink warm tea with the other volunteers and sit on rock benches that are as cold as ice.
After eating unusually spicy food for breakfast the volunteers undertake their routine walk with the younger children to the front gate on their way to school. Seeing it before I always thought that there was something a little corny to this walk, it was so “lets see the kids off to school”, it felt too motherly. But whatever, I join in with the other volunteers and children so I don’t seem like an outcast.
As we walk along the sand paths, little girls and boys pair up with a volunteer – to hold hands with while walking. This makes me slightly uncomfortable. As we get about halfway between the dining hall and the gate a boy comes up to me grabs my hand and smiles – anointing me “his Biya” for the school march. For the rest of the march he strays from time to time to pick up a stone or chase a dog but always comes back to me with a toothy smile on this face and an outstretched hand. As we approach the gate, I notice that my kid has no chappals on. When I ask him about it, he tells me that one of the dogs took his chappals and threw them somewhere and now he can’t find them.
I can’t help but laugh at how ridiculous the story is. A dog took your shoes and because of that you have to walk to school barefoot? I can’t even walk 5 feet in the village without sandals. In addition to the stones and rocks, the sand is covered in sharp thorns, which immediately stop me in my tracks. The kid doesn’t complain once. No adult’s are asking him where his chappals are.
It was the craziest thing to me. The toughness was on a level that I have never seen before. And it wasn’t the physical toughness that amazed me, it was the mental toughness, he wasn’t searching for any sympathy, it was just the facts regarding happened to his chappals. It’s the type of thing you see on national geographic or the discovery channel. You don’t actually meet a kid who is walking to school barefoot and not thinking anything of it.
I think my experience in India can just about be summed up through this story – I held hands with a boy who walked to school barefoot because a dog took his chappals and threw them somewhere.